æ The 2011 sturgeon population is estimated at 47,500 fish, including 31,700 males.
æ In 2010, 83 sturgeon that weighed 100 pounds or more were speared.
æ A 36-inch sturgeon — the minimum allowable length — is usually about nine years old.
æ A total of 1,820 sturgeon were speared in 2010.
æ Sturgeon, notorious “bottom-feeders,” eat redworms (found on Lake Winnebago mud flats) and gizzard shad (officials say the shad hatch was the largest they’ve seen since the early 1990s.)
æ Spearing hours are from 6:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
æ Only persons 14 years of age and older are eligible to spear sturgeon.
æ A person who spears a sturgeon must accompany and exhibit the tagged sturgeon at an official sturgeon registration station no later than 1:30 p.m. on the day speared.
Total harvest of sturgeon will be limited through pre-set caps. The harvest caps for this season have been raised from 2010 by 296 fish.
Harvest caps for the upcoming Winnebago System spearing season are 395 for juvenile females (316 Lake Winnebago, 79 Upriver
Lakes); 790 for adult females (711 Lake Winnebago, 79 Upriver Lakes); and 1,200 for males (960 Lake Winnebago, 240 Upriver Lakes).
In 2010, caps were 350 for juvenile females, 739 for adult females, and 1,000 for males.
Source: Wisconsin DNR
æ Waverly Beach Resort, junction of Highways 10 and 114.
æ Harrison Town Hall, junction of Highway 114 and State Park Road.
æ Harbor Bar, Stockbridge (on the lake).
æ Quinney Quencher, Quinney (on the lake).
æ DNR Calumet Harbor Station, Pipe on the lake.
æ Wendt’s Bar & Harbor, Highway 45, Van Dyne.
æ Jerry’s Tavern, 1210 Ceape St., Oshkosh.
æ Payne’s Point Tavern, County Trunk A, Neenah.
æ Critters Wolf River Sports, 131 W. Main St., Winneconne.
æ Indian Point Tavern, County Trunk H, Tustin.
æ Boom Bay Boat Landing, County Trunk MM, Lake Poygan.
A February tradition on Lake Winnebago is right around the corner. Thousands of enthusiastic anglers are gearing up for the start on Saturday of the annual lake sturgeon spearing season.
The 2011 sturgeon spearing season opens Feb. 12 and continues to Feb. 27 or until pre-set harvest caps are reached.
An important “pre-game” activity — the “cutting in” of sturgeon holes — starts Thursday.
“As of Saturday, Feb. 5, the water clarity has generally improved somewhat across the lake … ” said Ron Bruch, Winnebago sturgeon biologist with the Department of Natural Resources. Bruch said average clarity is about 13 feet.
He said the “best water” appears to be in the south and along the east shore, although he has heard of some other local areas of exceptionally clear water. There are some areas, too, where water is somewhat turbid.
Clarity was measured at 12 feet about two miles off the west shore at Wendt’s, where depth was measured at 15 feet. The water was clear for 10 feet at BP Fond du Lac — the same as the water depth.
Clarity was 12.5 feet at Calumet Harbor and 15 feet at Stockbridge.
Recent snowstorms have increased the amount of snow on the ice. Fishing club members have been working to try and keep lake roads clear to provide access to spearing areas and shacks.
Bruch said fishing club members who are working to keep roads open for safe travel deserve a word of thanks. Fishermen who are using the roads and do not belong to a club may also want to consider making a financial donation for their efforts.
Bruch said a number of people have asked if they can still get a license.
“The answer to this question is no,” he said. Deadline for purchasing licenses was Oct. 31, 2010.
Ron Gishaber of Appleton set a new state record on last year’s opening day with a 212.2-pound sturgeon. The new record easily topped the 188-pound, 79.5-inch fish taken by Dave Piechowski of Redgranite in 2004.
Despite the large number of spearers expected on the lake, officials believe the current rules protect against over-harvest.
Bruch said the adult stock of lake sturgeon in Lake Winnebago has increased over the last decade.
“In 2010, we estimated we had 15,800 females and 31,700 in our adult spawning stock,” Bruch said.
Bill Casper, a founding member of Sturgeon for Tomorrow who lives in the town of Taycheedah, plans to be out this weekend, waiting for an elusive fish to appear in his sturgeon hole.
“I just got my spot where I go,” he said, “If I can’t see, I stay anyway. I hang my decoys down there and hope they notice them.”
Casper, who just turned 80, said he’s been going out on the lake for spearing season since he was 8 years old. An uncle who had been taking him as a young boy handed over his shanty, spear, gaff hook, decoys and all his equipment to Casper when he turned 14.
“I had to be big enough and strong enough to get the fish out,” recalls Casper, adding that he had to find someone to pull the shanty to the lake because he wasn’t old enough to drive.
He remembers buying sturgeon tags during those days for a nickel each, with a limit of up to five tags.
“My dad would say, ‘Don’t waste a quarter, just buy two,’” he said. “If you got a fish or two, you could stop at the tavern and buy a couple more (tags). I never was so lucky to need more than two.”